Let’s hear it for conventicles

by Greg Asimakoupoulos

Recently I came across my old student pictorial directory from Fuller Seminary. I browsed the yellowed pages of that black-and-white photo album, complete with snail mail addresses and landline phone numbers. It dawned on me how technology has become part of our lives. Turning the pages, I realized this was the original Facebook—just a book of faces. And young faces at that!

It was during my seminary years I discovered that I had been a Mission Friend for years without knowing it. As I attended Pasadena Covenant Church, I recognized core values that were part of my spiritual DNA. The emphasis on biblical centrality, a personal relationship with Christ and the importance of community with an eye toward theological freedom drew me in.

The community piece was reinforced by a class all first-year students at Fuller were required to take. Foundations of Ministry was taught by Dr. Robert Boyd Munger. In my formative years as a Christian, I had come across a sermon by Dr. Munger that had been published in booklet form. My Heart, Christ’s Home provided practical insight in my desire to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.

As part of the course, we students were divided into small groups for Bible study, prayer and in-depth fellowship. My group consisted of three married couples and two single men, including me. The eight of us met weekly around food and beverages while discussing biblical passages assigned to us by Dr. Bob. We shared our insights about the text. But we also shared fears and struggles we were facing in our personal lives. Honesty and accountability was encouraged. Marc, our facilitator who was a second year student, kept us on target and provided direction to a process we all came to love.

The fact that our weekly meetings were in a home was a key factor. The comfortable setting provided a sense of being a family. While Dr. Munger’s famous sermon was titled, “My Heart, Christ’s Home,” our small group could just as well have been named “My Home, Christ’s Heart.” It was in the homes of our various members where we felt the pulsating heartbeat of the Lord’s presence. The fireplace of community blazed with the warmth of friendship and the brilliance of inquisitive minds. The logs of weekly attendance and honest interaction kept the fire crackling.

As I learned more about the history of the Covenant Church, I discovered the dynamic that characterized the conventicles of the early Mission Friends in Sweden and then again in North America, also was evident in those weekly meetings I experienced as a seminarian. We did not all share the same interpretation of the scriptures. Often, we agreed to disagree. We celebrated our freedom in Christ. Sharing a meal and our lives bonded us as brothers and sisters. And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of honesty and vulnerability. There is something authentic that takes place in a living room that isn’t always found in a stained-glass sanctuary.

That personal introduction to an in-depth small group whetted my appetite for more of the same. In each of the five congregations I’ve served since my Fuller days, I have been a cheerleader for home fellowship groups. The spirit of the conventicles lives on in congregations where a healthy small group ministry is enabled and directed.

Flipping through my seminary directory brought back memories of those individuals with whom I shared two years of my life on a weekly basis. I expressed gratitude to God for what those seven individuals meant to me at the start of my ministry. I also am grateful that social media has allowed most of us to remain connected through the years. We are able to connect virtually and share personally as we did back in the beginning.

It has been meaningful to observe how the Lord has guided each one. Our leader Marc got married not long after he led our group. He and his wife served their entire careers in PCUSA congregations. Another felt led to be ordained in the PCA denomination and with his wife found fulfilling avenues of service. A third member with his wife followed their hearts working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship before channeling their God-given gifts helping people find housing.

A serious car accident following graduation from Fuller resulted in a traumatic brain injury for our other classmate. The complications of his injury and resultant challenges in their marriage took their toll. A couple we loved disappeared from our radar, but remained in our prayers. A small group that started in 1976 continues to be committed to holding each other up before the Lord. That’s just what conventicles do—even when they are virtual!